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A new grocery store opens in downtown Cleveland this morning. But this family-run business is more than a grocery store. It’s more like a food cathedral. The above iPhone photo, shot early this week as cases were being filled, attests to that. But the simile goes beyond architecture. This grocery store, perhaps among the most humble-seeming of businesses, is a symbol of this once moribund city’s recent growth. Downtown Cleveland is now a desirable place to live (apparently it’s at 95% capacity). We’ve long known it’s a desirable place to eat. Astonishingly, it’s made significant lists of must-see destinations (Travel+Leisure, Fodor’s, even the LA Times). Also it’s my hometown and I care for it the way one does a cherished mutt: with devotion and pity and deep love, for all its good and bad. (See this hilarious tourism video, and sports fans far and near in many ways share our pain, know our Factory of Sadness.)

 

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The city was once a grand and teeming metropolis, with John D. Rockefeller striding from his house at 40th and Euclid with his business partner Henry Flagler, down Millionaire’s Row, as the avenue was called, to his offices at Standard Oil. I grew up at Cleveland’s nadir, when the bank above called in the city’s notes and put it into default under Mayor Dennis Kucinich’s reign. The building closed and has been shuttered for a quarter century. What Clevelander could have know in 1905 that what they were seeing rising in their city was a future grocery store. (Our estimable architecture critic Steven Litt spells it all out in this excellent piece on the building and its significance.)

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Grocery stores are filled with so much minutiae, their shelves packed and repacked with so many objects so ordinary (an onion, cereal boxes, milk cartons, meat in styrofoam packages with a sticker on top), that we tend to overlook their fundamental importance to our communities. When Tom and Jeff Heinen open their newest store in this grand Beaux-Arts structure today it signals at least one city to pay attention to its grocery stores. They’re about a lot more than food.

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© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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17 Wonderful responses to “A Cathedral of Food”

  • Kellie

    Beautiful pictures of a beautiful building in a beautiful city. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ben H.

    I live in Knoxville, TN and have seen the last five years of a huge downtown resurgence that has been 15+ years in the making. Despite all of the good (new shops, hotels, restaurants, etc.) there are two things that those of us who either live or work downtown have been calling for in order to make downtown feel like a more feasible place to call home: a pharmacy and a proper grocery. We have a pharmacy that will be open within the year (news recently announced) and many folks talk about the grocery. The fact that Cleveland is seeing one open gives me at least some hope.

  • Patricia

    That’s just fabulous! I am a Heinens shopper and had a savings account at Cleveland trust in grade school! What a great use of a beautiful building. Thanks for helping to keep our city alive.

  • Karen Burns

    Thank you for the beautiful photos! I appreciate your insightful post. It’s a proud day for Clevelanders as the Heinen’s family pays tribute to both our love of food and to our architectural history.

  • James O.

    Buffalo — at the other end of Lake Erie — is seeing a similar renaissance as is Cleveland; many thanks to the Pegula family for believing in Buffalo and investing here.
    But, as much as we love our Wegmans & Tops stores … how can we get one of those Heinens stores of our own?

  • Terry Sennett

    John and his team did a marvelous job! I look forward to visiting this summer. Beautiful.

  • John C Williams

    Very excited to have been responsible for the reintroduction of this fantastic building to the public! Thanks for your interest in this project. We can both be very proud of our hometown and the energy this project is creating. Heinen’s is an amazing company and grocer. Thanks, Michael.

    • ruhlman

      this, folks is the architect behind the project who selflessly stripped away all the 70s “improvements” to return the building to the greatness architect George Post intended. John, the city is in your debt!

  • chrishpl

    Michael, I am new to your blog, and couldn’t be be happier that I subscribed in time to see this post. My Mom and ALL of her family are from Cleveland…I grew up 1.5 hrs. away…but many of my earliest memories are of staying at my Grams and Gramps, who lived on the West Side in a house that was a part of a neighborhood with trim lawns, spotless houses, and memories galore…and which also is now, sadly, a delapidated area. So sad. I LOVED going to the West Side Market with my Gram, who spoke Slovac….what great memories. I will definitely check out your links. I love Cleveland, for all of its character and the resiliency of its inhabitants…so good to hear about this market. Best wishes to them, and thanks for the memories!

  • Jlhpisces

    Thank your for this insight into the growth of Cleveland. I have long admired that you choose to stay and always promote your hometown when you could have chosen to relocate. Best of luck to these changes!

  • arlene hansen

    Growing up in Miami, Florida in the 50’s and 60’s, I had the priviledge of knowing a lady by the name of Vera (Verna) Gillich. Vera passed away in 1992..a beautiful women to her last day. I remember that she was an incredible baker….I still have recipes that I wrote down while watching her work. One recipe is for those fussy Hungarian nut rolls that always burst open from too much filling. In addition to memories, I have another rememberance of her life…..her business card. Circa 1940-1955(?) the card says..Verna Gillich Hungarian Restaurant “We serve all kinds of Meals. Sandwiches Chicken Dinners Saturday and Sunday” Open 7am to 8 pm. 7400 Lorain Avenue , Cleveland, Ohio. The card is on light pink cardstock and has an image of a lady holding a platter. So here is to Vera…and her Cleveland of long ago…may the city flourish anew.

  • Mary Anne Mosack

    What a fantastic vision for a grocery store and another boon to the resurgence of downtown Cleveland! Major hat tip to all who have made this happen!

  • Betsy @ Desserts Required

    I grew up in Cleveland but have been living in South Florida for over 30 years. At my core I will, always, be a Clevelander and everything that it represents. Which means, I beam with pride over its accomplishments and my heart breaks with its challenges.

    I loved reading this post. A grocery store represents so much more than the items held within. Thank you for sharing such positive news about my beloved city.